Cardinals Rule 5 Eligibles

A look at those St. Louis Cardinals organization players that could be taken in December's Rule 5 draft, along with the rules and thinking behind the draft.

Any discussion of baseball's Rule 5 draft, to be held in conjunction with Baseball's annual December Winter Meetings, should begin with a refresher on the rules.

Simply put, the intent of the Rule 5 draft is to allow players who might otherwise be stuck in an organization to receive a chance to pursue their career elsewhere.

The rules

Any player that has been signed to a professional baseball contract for four years (or five years if signed at the age of 18 or younger) and is not on his organization's 40-man roster is eligible to be selected during the Rule 5 draft.

There are three phases of the Rule 5 draft - Major League (players selected from Triple-A rosters), Triple-A (players taken from Double-A) and Double-A (players taken from Single-A). Rosters specificially for this purpose were submitted by each club to Major League Baseball on November 20.

In the case of the Major League phase, players taken in the Rule 5 draft must be kept at that level for the entire subsequent season. Otherwise, if the player is no longer wanted, he must first be exposed to waivers and if he clears, is returned to his original club. There is also an associated, albeit small, financial penalty.

The particulars of participation are defined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between players and ownership. The new CBA, which was recently agreed-to, had bumped the previous limits up by one year, meaning there may be fewer new names appearing on the 2006 Rule 5-eligible roll compared to 2005.

As a result, I expect fewer players to move in the 2006 Rule 5 draft.

Recent history

As a refresher, across all of MLB, only 12 players were taken in the Major League phase of the 2005 Rule 5 draft. 39 players were selected in the Triple-A phase and just six in the Double-A draft. That total of 56 was down from the 75 taken in 2004 and 80 in 2003.

Last year, the Cardinals selected pitcher Juan Mateo from the Cubs in the Major League phase, but returned him late in 2006 Spring Training, when it was clear he would not crack the 25-man roster.

St. Louis picked up two players in the Triple-A phase of the 2005 draft – catcher Iker Franco and infielder Vince Harrison, neither of whom remains in the organization. The Cardinals lost infielder Tim Hummel.

Clearly, none of these moves were earth-shaking.

Yet, to keep interest high, there only needs to be one or two stories like that of a then-anonymous Venezuelan pitcher who was taken from the Houston Astros by the Florida Marlins in the 1999 Rule 5 draft, and then was traded to the Minnesota Twins.

His name? Two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana.

By the numbers

Of the 27 Cardinals organization players eligible to be selected in the Rule 5 draft, 22 of them are assigned to Memphis, meaning they would have to be selected in the Major League phase of the draft.

Only four are on the Springfield roster, eligible to be taken in the Triple-A phase of Rule 5. Finally, just one, outfielder Matt Lemanczyk, is assigned to Palm Beach, and therefore available to be taken in the Double-A phase of the Rule 5 draft.

Of the 12 pitchers, 11 are with Memphis and just one, Kevin Ool, is a left-hander. Four catchers are on the eligible list, along with nine infielders and just two outfielders.

Seven of the 27 have been signed by the Cardinals in recent weeks as minor league free agents, including two who returned to the organization, Rico Washington and Brian Esposito. The other five new members of the organization are pitchers Alex Pena and Mike Smith, infielders Tagg Bozied and Edgar Gonzalez and catcher Ryan Christianson. Odds are that none of these seven will be taken, since they were all free-agents just days ago.

Probably the highest-profile names eligible to be taken are pitcher Mark Michael and infielder Juan Lucena, both on the Palm Beach roster in 2006. Each made my Top 40 Cardinals Prospect List one year ago and again here in preparation for 2007, though they each slid considerably year-to-year.

Mark Michael

With Michael, the Cardinals are taking a calculated gamble, but to be honest, they have with him from the very start. The former fourth-rounder (2003) has all the potential in the world, but has yet to demonstrate he can remain healthy for an entire season.

The 6'4", 215 pound righty missed time with a rotator cuff problem in 2004, almost two months in 2005 with shoulder tendinitis and pitched only half a season in 2006 due to an elbow nerve problem, with the injuries blamed at least in part on his mechanics.

Michael still has a very good repertoire that includes a fastball that hits 93 to 95 MPH, along with an above-average changeup plus a curveball. He is a solid fielder and has a fine pickoff move.

But, coming off his poorest season to-date, a 2-7, 5.63 ERA campaign in his second year at Palm Beach, the 24-year-old Michael is clearly not ready to make the jump to the major leagues. So, I do not see him being claimed.

Juan Lucena

Juan Lucena has hit .300 in two consecutive years at two different levels, including a batting title in the Appalachian League in 2004. The 22-year-old is a good contact hitter, striking out only infrequently. However, Lucena rarely takes a walk and has demonstrated very little power.

The Venezuelan shortstop was named the Cardinals' best defensive infielder by Baseball America in 2005, and is versatile, so his glove is not the issue. His batting line with Palm Beach in 2006 illustrates the primary problem: .288/.320/.347.

Despite the Cardinals brass' admiration of Lucena, they must have realized there is little chance another organization could spare even their 25th major league roster spot on a player with these glaring concerns about his bat still unanswered.

As a result, the Cardinals left Lucena unprotected.

We will see during the December 7 Rule 5 draft whether the Cardinals lose any players and/or perhaps pick up one or two. This writer, at least, projects no losses for the ‘Birds this time around.

Following is the entire list, with club assignment for protection purposes. Remember, this doesn't necessarily have any connection to where the player either finished 2006 or will end up taking the field in 2007.

Cardinals 2006 Rule 5 draft eligible list

Jose Garcia RHP Memphis
Justin Garza RHP Memphis
Kyle McClellan RHP Memphis
Mark Michael RHP Memphis
Victor Moreno RHP Memphis
Jason Motte RHP Memphis
Kevin Ool LHP Memphis
Jordan Pals RHP Memphis
Alex Pena RHP Memphis
Chris Russ RHP Memphis
Mike Smith RHP Memphis
Brian Stitt RHP Springfield
Ryan Christianson C Memphis
Brian Esposito C Memphis
Henry Guerrero C Springfield
Matt Pagnozzi C Memphis
Tagg Bozied 1B Memphis
Matt Dryer 3B Springfield
Kevin Estrada SS Memphis
Edgar Gonzalez IF Memphis
Rayner Laya SS Springfield
Juan Lucena SS Memphis
Mike McCoy 2B Memphis
John Nelson SS Memphis
Rico Washington SS Memphis
Matt Lemanczyk OF Palm Beach
Joe Mather OF Memphis

Brian Walton can be reached via email at

© 2006 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

The Cardinal Nation Top Stories